By Aimee Hufstetler, MA
Assistant Vice President for Enrollment
Gwynedd Mercy University

What is a first-generation college student? First-generation students are commonly defined as being the first in their families to attend college, like me. At GMercyU, I’m part of a whole community of people who share the same honor – 25% of our undergraduate students in Fall 2023 identified as first-generation.

We know how exciting yet overwhelming it can be to start your college search, especially as a first-gen student. It’s why a GMercyU education comes with a broad spectrum of support, starting the moment you apply. And it's why we've put together the following tips for staying organized during your college search so you can find the right school for you.

Whether you're a first-gen student or not, we hope you find this advice helpful!


Step 1: Think about what is important to you.

For example, is it financial aid? Is it getting involved on campus with activities? Is it conducting undergraduate research? Is having access to a tutor a priority?

Ask questions as you tour colleges and make note of the answers. Here's a handy list of 23 Questions to Ask When Touring Colleges to get you started. 

Step 2: Think about what you want (and don’t want) from your college experience.

If you’re not sure yet, ask older friends, current college students, guidance counselors, your admissions student tour guides, etc. what they prioritized when choosing a college. Make a list of your priorities.

Step 3: Categorize the things you listed.

What are the things you absolutely cannot live without? (Example: the major of my choice)

Things you’re neutral on? (Example: opportunity to play intramural sports)

Things you definitely don’t want in a future school? (Example: A large school where professors won’t know who I am)

Step 4: If you’re a visual person, color-code your list of priorities.

For example, must-haves could be highlighted in green, neutral could be yellow, and red flags could be red.

Step 5: Ask as many questions as you need so you can feel comfortable and informed about your college decision!

A great admissions counselor will always be available to help you, whether by text, email, or phone.

Step 6: Establish your timeline and deadlines.

Here at GMercyU, we're on a rolling admissions calendar. That means once you apply, we’ll tell you if you are accepted in as little as two weeks. (Future nursing students may need to wait a bit longer.) Other schools may have application deadlines you need to abide by, so make note of them.

Step 7: Research scholarship opportunities.

There are so many out there, take advantage of them! GMercyU offers multiple scholarships to save you money on tuition. We also share some of our favorite outside (non-GMercyU) scholarships from third parties. Many have deadlines for applying, so take note!

You will also want to apply for federal aid via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (commonly referred to as "FAFSA"). Curious how that works? We walk you through that process here.

Step 8: Reflect and review.

If a university checks off more of your must-haves and/or neutral things, then that school might be a good fit for you! If a university has more of your red flags, then it might not be the best fit for you.

Good luck! You've got this. If you need more help, find additional resources for first-generation students here

About Gwynedd Mercy University

Gwynedd Mercy University offers 40+ undergraduate programs that prepare students to become top professionals in the fields of nursing and other health professions, arts and sciences, business, and education. Our campus is located on 145 private acres in Gwynedd Valley, Pa – a beautiful, serene place to live, learn, and grow – just 30 minutes from Philadelphia. And, in Fall 2023, first-year students will get to enjoy a newly remodeled residence hall, Loyola HallHave questions about GMercyU? Reach out to an admissons counselor today!